(This is a long post. My suggestion is take it one section at a time. I'll be leaving this on the home page for awhile to let people get through it.)
As I begin writing this, I am halfway through the day that was supposed to be the end of the world. Another few hours and I guess I’ll be alright. As silly as that may (or may not) be, this last day of the Mayan calendar did give pause for reflection. Add to that the end of another year on the present calendar and we have the makings of some quality reminiscing. There were way too many things that happened in my life in 2012 to chronicle all of them, but certain moments are still so fresh in my mind, heart, and soul that they deserve a written memory. Since I don’t do those x-mas time wrap-up letters accompanied by a picture-card of me in a gaudy sweater, this will have to do.
One Hundred Ninety Years old and all mine
The start of 2012 found me still in my beloved Log House. I had finalized its sale in November of ’11, but the new owner had graciously afforded me the opportunity to live there for a year, rent free. I took him up on his offer and stayed there until I left for the Appalachian Trail. During the weeks that led up to the departure date, I gifted, threw away, or sold all my tools, furniture, appliances, clothes, and everything else that couldn't fit into my small Volkswagen. For the small pile of belongings I was holding onto, a friend let me use a corner of his basement to store it. Before I knew it, the day to leave had come and Alli, along with my friends Mike and Ginny, were waiting in the driveway as I went back into the Log House for a private goodbye.
I slowly walked through each room, running my hand along the rough handhewn logs and it wasn't long before the tears were flowing. The weeks leading up to that date had all gone by in such a rush that I hadn't taken a single moment to really think about what was happening. This house had been my retreat, my escape, the perfect party hosting space, the planning for the best garden I'll ever have, my stress, my happiness, and most importantly, my home. And now I was walking away. I put literal sweat, blood, and tears into that house, and in that alone moment where I was saying goodbye, I regretted leaving with everything in my being.
There will be other houses in my life, but they will have an awful lot to live up to. Not a day goes by I don't miss my beloved Log House.
Walking up and down and back up
There is more in my mind and heart about the Appalachian Trail than I could fit in eleven books. I was more ready for that adventure than anything I've ever done in my life. I had all the gear, I had good health for the first time in many years, and I had nothing and nobody holding me back. I hit the trail in the afternoon of March 26th and for eleven days I poured myself into fulfilling the dream I'd had for years and years.
The trip, while the dream of all dreams and the adventure of all adventures, was more revealing than I ever thought it would be. The AT beat me up both mentally and physically, but the thing it did I never expected, was make me grow up. Somewhere on one of those mountains, I matured beyond anything I thought the trail would or could have ever accomplished. On those ups and downs I became aware of wanting... wanting to be a Dad, wanting to be a husband, wanting to be the real man I was called to be.
I am still saddened at times that I wasn't able to finish the AT. It would have been a feather in my cap, a patch on my vest, a tattoo on my life. I'm not embarrassed to say leaving the trail was a blow to my ego, but there is no doubt those few days living in the woods made me a better person.
Since the first hospital scare in the early months of 2010 and the subsequent admission into the Nursing Home shortly thereafter, I knew my Dad’s days on this earth were numbered. Those in closer physical proximity to him never verbalized that though. In that fact there lays no fault and definitely no envy. I can never begin to understand the strain it was for my Mom and sisters to see Dad going downhill. The miles and hours that separated us graced me the opportunity to miss the ugliness of disease and infections, misdiagnoses, dangerous drug interactions, and the breakdown of Dad’s mental and physical being.
But while my Mom and sisters were dealing with Dad’s gradual decline, my Mom seeing it every day, my experiences with Dad’s health were much more sharp. I could only visit him every few months and the drastic changes over those spaces of time were hard to take. By the summer of 2011 I’d had about all I could handle. My memories of Dad were becoming filled with images of how bad he looked compared to before, how slow his speech was since the last time, how gaunt his skin and pale his face had become. I hated it that I couldn’t remember his laugh, couldn’t recall his gait as he walked, and couldn’t smell sawdust in his hair anymore. Simply put (and understanding how horrible it sounds), I wanted him to die before the only memories I had of him were sick memories. To add to it, if death was going to happen anyway then I didn’t want to visit him and ruin the few good memories I still held onto.
That opinion changed as 2012 started. A couple months after I started dating Alli I took her to Columbus so she could meet my family. As we arrived at the Nursing Home my Mom asked me to go with her to the office to figure out a billing issue. That left Alli alone in a room with my Dad, whom she had known for three whole minutes. When my Mom and I returned twenty minutes later my Dad was glowing and Alli was smiling. He had fallen in love with her. We stayed for many hours that night and as we left and were walking to my car, Alli stopped me and said in her matter-of-fact way, “I know how you feel about seeing your Dad get worse and worse, but I want to come back and see him and I want that to be sooner than later.” My state of mind changed immediately, and I saw him more in the first few months of 2012 than in the whole two previous years combined.
My Dad died on May eighth. All these months later I still have no idea what that actually means and I certainly haven’t processed all the emotions of it. Even as I write this I’m not sure how to define much of it. I miss him. There’s a hole in my life without him. There’s something daily I want to share with him. I need his advice on faith. I want to know his opinion on future plans. And so much more than I can put into words. 2012 was that magic year that marked the time where I lived more years under my own roof then I did under his, but I would give anything to have just one of those first eighteen years back if it meant spending time with my Dad.
I have a few friends my age who have also lost one of their parents, all of them too young to be normal. And one thing I now understand right along with them is that saying we miss our parent doesn't even glance the surface of what we are really feeling. Life is different now, and not for the better. Our life is missing something and that something isn't just a person. (On an interesting note, the four people I share this fraternity with are each the oldest of their siblings. I think each of them would admit that losing our parent made us all lose a few years off our own life.)
I miss you Dad.
If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
After leaving what was possibly my greatest possession and then experiencing what was possibly my greatest failure followed by what was possibly my greatest sadness, I had a one-of-a-kind ring designed for what would possibly be my greatest happiness. On the evening of what would have been my parents' Fortieth Wedding Anniversary (which was completely by coincidence and not planned at all), I got down on one knee and asked the most perfect person God has ever made, to be my wife.
It goes without saying that deciding to marry Alli carried with it certain remembrances and regrets from my first marriage. I failed as a husband once, how could I ensure I wasn't going to fail again? The only answer I could come up with is that I needed to stop being sorry for the past and move on with my future. Alli is not anyone but herself, and I am in love with Alli. Asking her to be my wife was what needed to happen for me to move on and be happy with the life I still had left to live.
Alli is this wonderful person who challenges me, encourages me, loves me, and wants to be my partner. We grew up in different cultures and come from different (so-called) generations, but those things have never seemed to matter to either of us. I smile when she reaches out for me, I am warmed when she says my name, and I am awed with her plain and simple acceptance of who we are and why (and how) God crafted us for one another. I can't imagine facing what I faced this year without her to support me and be by my side. I love this woman and I will be proud to marry her. (Plus she's a kick-ass cook.)
The BMT isn't just a sandwich anymore
In the first fall season of living as a single man again, I travelled to a quaint little town in Western North Carolina called Black Mountain. While I was there I climbed a mile high mountain, I connected with truly genuine people, and I fell in love with a town. On that trip I decided if I could make it happen, one day I would live there.
On June first of 2012, I moved to Black Mountain. In the otherwise uptight Bible belt, BMT and its younger (and much phatter) sister Asheville are a beacon for aging hippies, fresh local food in all season, music every day of the week, good beer heaped upon great beer poured on top of amazing beer, an art scene that runs deeply in vibrant colors, and people that smile without reservation. The Blue Ridge Mountains surround the town on all sides, shopping of any kind abounds in the streets, and the same Brown-Hair-Effect that made me feel home two years earlier is still present.
But while moving to a beautiful town seems like an easy decision, it actually wasn't. You see, my parents moved me to Ohio in only my third year on this planet, and for the next thirty three years I lived in that same county in that same state. Moving nine hours and five hundred plus miles away was not a move to beauty but instead a scary attempt at restarting my life. Sharing the journey with Alli and loving this mountain town makes it easier, but it's still an intense feeling every day I wake up.
A weighty effect on life
For many years my belt expanded as fast as I could shovel food into my mouth. I always had this thought in the back of my mind that I could get healthy any time I wanted to, but frankly, there was little in my life that seemed worthy of making that happen. That changed with the combination of horrors that happened to me in 2010, and that summer I decided once and for all to make a change. I started eating right, started working out, and started to once again care about myself.
Skip ahead to 2012 when the scale hit a total weight loss of sixty pounds from my worst weight. I would love to lose another forty before I get married in July to make it a proud one hundred, and with Alli cooking me the healthy meals we share, I see for the first time in my life that that might be a reality.
Someone told me the other day that any one of the big things I experienced in 2012 would be enough to fill a decade worth of life. Having lived through it I wonder how I ever made it through.......... but here I am. I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm scared, I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm energized, and I'm so very many other things and in such a different place than I ever would have pictured when Father Time handed the reigns of a new year to me.
Thank you for sharing the year with me. I mean that. If you're in my life, I mean it. Thank you. Let's raise a glass together to 2013 and whatever it may bring.